Temple board appoints temporary president as Theobald agrees to step down

Richard M. Englert (left) will serve as acting president of Temple University

Richard M. Englert (left) will serve as acting president of Temple University

While summer months are usually quieter times on college campuses, that hasn’t been the case at Temple University, which has undergone a leadership crisis. Within just three weeks, Temple’s top two posts have changed hands.

After several tumultuous weeks, Temple reached an agreement Thursday with President Neil Theobald that included his resignation. The resolution was reached just hours before a meeting where the board of trustees planned a vote to oust him.

At the special session, the board appointed Temple Chancellor Richard Englert to serve as acting president beginning next month.

With a “no confidence” vote in Theobald after his refusal to resign last week, the board prepared to fire the university president following his abrupt dismissal of Provost Hai-Lung Dai and the discovery of a $22 million shortfall in the university’s financial aid budget.

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Kevin Feeley, board spokesman, said the budget deficit was a major issue for the board.

“That’s a significant shortfall, and the board’s concern was both the amount and the fact that it was unaware of the deficit until well after it had arisen,” he said.

The $22 million overrun in the university’s merit scholarship fund for the 2016-17 year was attributed to a large increase in qualified incoming freshmen. Applicants with high GPAs and SAT scores qualify automatically for certain scholarships.

University officials blame Theobald for the deficit, and they say he was aware of it when it was at $9 million.

“The board was not aware of the size of the deficit … we were made aware at $22 [million],” Feeley said.

Another factor was Theobald’s handling of Dai’s dismissal on June 28, which stunned the campus. The removal of Dai, who was provost for four years, led to a public outcry and protest from faculty and students. A Change.org petition asking the board to scrutinize Theobold’s leadership had more than 4,100 signatures.

Temple’s law school dean, JoAnne Epps, was hired as provost.

Theobald led the university for three and half years. His resignation is effective Aug. 1.

During his tenure, the university introduced “Fly in Four” to help students graduate within four years, made SAT scores optional for admission and drew a record number of applications. Temple also moved into the top 100 universities in the National Science Foundation’s research expenditures rankings and jumped to its highest ever U.S. News & World Report ranking.

Stadium plan controversy

Acting president Englert said Thursday he’ll focus on continuing the university’s success.

“The momentum goes on … through our faculty, our physicians, all the people who really make Temple University great,” he said. “That continues. That has continued and continues going forward.”

Englert previously served as acting president until Theobald’s arrival in 2012; his election this week means he will be bookending Theobald’s tenure at Temple.

As the board met, the Stadium Stompers — a group of residents, business owners, students and faculty who oppose the plan for an on-campus stadium — demonstrated on Broad Street to reaffirm its objections.

“We want to be clear: we are not Temple bashers,” said the Rev. William Moore, part of a North Philadelphia coalition of clergy. “However, most recently, the longstanding residents, churches and businesses are being run over and forced out by development gone wild.

“Yes, we value Temple University as a significant partner, but we do not subscribe to ‘Whatever Temple wants, Temple gets.'”

Lifelong North Philadelphia resident Ruth Birchett said her neighborhood already suffers with parking issues because of off-campus student housing. She’d like to see the Temple Owls continue to play at Lincoln Financial Field.

“It’s impractical to build a 35,000-seat stadium directly across the street from residential housing. That’s impractical,” she said. “It’s impractical to spend state dollars and city resources to build a stadium when Philadelphia has a sports complex on south Broad Street.”

Englert said he has formulated no position yet on the stadium, but he said he is committed to continuing the stadium’s feasibility studies on parking and traffic and holding conversations with the community.

“As those studies come forward, we will look, and we’re also talking constantly with our community partners,” he said. “We have quite a ways to go, and we are fully engaged. And we will do the right thing.”

He said his focus is making sure the new school year is off to a good start.

Meanwhile, the board of trustees plans a comprehensive search for a permanent president.

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